Saturday, 08 September 2018 06:01

Google slammed for Chrome change that strips out 'www' from domains Featured

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Google slammed for Chrome change that strips out 'www' from domains Courtesy: Google

Google's move to strip out the "www" and "m." in domains typed into the address bar, beginning with version 69 of its Chrome browser, has drawn an enormous amount of criticism from developers who see the move as a bid to cement the company's dominance of the Web.

The criticism comes a few days after Chrome's engineering manager Adrienne Porter Felt told the American website Wired that URLs need to be got rid of altogether.

The change in Chrome version 69 means that if one types in a domain such as www.itwire.com into the browser search bar, the www portion is stripped out in the address bar when the page is displayed.

When asked about this change in a long discussion thread on a mailing list, a Google staffer wrote: "www is now considered a 'trivial' subdomain, and hiding trivial subdomains can be disabled in flags (will also disable hiding the URL scheme): chrome://flags/#omnibox-ui-hide-steady-state-url-scheme-and-subdomains."

But this was contested by a poster to the list, who wrote: "This is a dumb change. No part of a domain should be considered 'trivial'. As an ISP, we often have to go to great lengths to teach users that 'www.domain.com' and 'domain.com' are two different domains, and that they may not necessarily go to the same destination.

"The marketing world has done a lot of damage convincing people that 'www' is both ubiquitous and non-essential, when in fact, for some domains, the use or lack of it can be quite important to getting to the correct location."

A Google staffer attempted to justify the change, writing: "The subdomains reappear when editing the URL so people type the correct one. They disappear in the steady-state display case because this isn't information that most users need to concern themselves with in most cases. I think this is an OK tradeoff even in the rare case when www.foo.com is not actually the same as foo.com. (Side note: like it or not, almost no real-world users will use such a thing correctly; configuring your server like this seems like a Bad Move even if it's technically legal, because people are going to access the wrong thing, and that has been true for some time and irrespective of Chrome's UI changes.)

"There are multiple real bugs here though: www.www.2ld.tld should become www.2ld.tld, not 2ld.tld (we should strip at most one m. and www.) subdomain.www.domain.com should be left as-is, not subdomain.domain.com (should only strip prefixes)."

But this drew an angry response from a poster who questioned the statement "this isn't information that most users need to concern themselves with in most cases" and asked: "According to who? This is simply an opinion stated as a fact."

This same individual also hit back at the statement, "(Side note: like it or not, almost no real-world users will use such a thing correctly;)", saying, "That's unfortunately, just another opinion stated as fact."

This is not the first time Google has been criticised for its moves to change the fundamental structure of URLs. Its Accelerated Mobile Pages, introduced in October 2015, have been criticised for obscuring the original URL of a page and reducing the chances of a reader going back to the original website.

Probably for this reason, Apple last year decided that version 11 of iOS would update its Safari browser to that AMP links would be stripped out of an URL when the story was shared.

Doubts have also been expressed about the extent to which AMP links increase traffic to a website.

Apart from Google staff on the mailing list referred to, nobody else thought the stripping of the "www" portion was a good idea.

Another poster wrote: "This does appear to be inconsistent/improperly implemented. Why is www hidden twice if the domain is "www.www.2ld.tld"? I feel like the logic could be worked out better, eg If the root zone is a 301 to the 'www' version, removing 'www' from the omnibox would be acceptable since the server indicated the root zone isn't intended for use.

"This isn't the behaviour, though. If example.com returns a 403 status, and www.example.com returns a 404 status, the www version is still hidden from the user. The www and the root are very obviously different pages and serve different purposes, so I believe the should be some logic regarding whether or not www should be hidden."

"This is Google making subdomain usage decisions for other entities outside of Google. My domains and how subdomains are assigned and delegated are not Google's business to decide," said yet another poster.

Another view was: "If the objective is to make URLs less confusing an emphasise the main domain name, why not just render parts in gray or make the main part bold. Wouldn't that achieve the same goal without essentially breaking the Internet?"

And another poster wrote: "Since this is essentially a security vulnerability, is Google going to get a CVE assigned for it? It would make it easier to help affected users make sure this is patched on their end."

iTWire has contacted Google for comment.


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Sam Varghese

Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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